Shore­ham Air­field

Founded by Ed­war­dian pi­o­neers fly­ing Boxkites and Blériot mono­planes, this south coast air­field is still go­ing strong

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Words & Pho­tos Nick Bloom

Coastal air­fields have a spe­cial charm and ‘Brighton City’, as it is now be­ing touted, is one of the most ap­peal­ing. For one thing, it has a rich his­tory: the first flight from here was in 1910 and it has been in con­tin­u­ous op­er­a­tion ever since. I can re­mem­ber when the Pop­u­lar Fly­ing As­so­ci­a­tion held its ral­lies at Shore­ham and the thrill of my first visit, in a two-seat, non-ra­dio Jodel, some 35 years ago. You drop down over some hills and there it is, laid out right next to the coast, ad­ja­cent to the river Adur, a mag­nif­i­cent air­field with three grass run­ways plus a hard run­way that was added in 1982. Then, as now, there is the treat of lunch­ing in the art deco pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal build­ing.

Even then it was a fairly for­mal air­field, with staff telling you where to park and keep­ing a wary eye on vis­i­tors. The land­ing fee was higher than at most other air­fields I flew to−to­day it’s £30 for a Pa-28−but worth it. And re­mem­ber to bring your high-vis jacket. I’ve left the Cur­rie Su­per Wot in the hangar this chilly Novem­ber day, as heavy show­ers are fore­cast, driv­ing round the dreaded M25 to ar­rive bright and early. Out­side the pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal, I see Dave Kimp­ton and Eleanor Lu­ton, who have just moved to the area. Pre­vi­ously they flew from White Waltham, and have now joined the South Coast Fly­ing Group. This will be Eleanor’s first flight in one of the group’s two Chero­kees. They say Brighton City is a friendly place, as is the group, whose third air­craft is a C152, and own­er­ship is non-eq­uity, so “no money down”.

In­side the pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal build­ing (a pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal no longer; now it’s of­fices, meet­ing rooms and a restau­rant) I meet John Davies of Helifly. This he­li­copter com­pany has a sin­gle Robin­son R44, and its busi­ness is 75 per cent plea­sure fly­ing, fif­teen per cent char­ter and ten per cent trial lessons. To­day John is due to fly a cou­ple to a ho­tel for lunch, which is one of a num­ber of pack­ages listed on the Helifly web­site. Later he is due to drop a char­ter client at a ho­tel near Rye.

A mag­nif­i­cent air­field with three grass run­ways plus a hard run­way added in 1982... and the treat of lunch­ing in the art deco pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal build­ing

John di­rects me to the of­fice of Alex O’lough­lin, Brighton City’s Head of Mar­ket­ing, who wants to ac­com­pany me around the air­field. Alex has been in post for six months, mar­ket­ing hav­ing pre­vi­ously been sub-con­tracted to an agency, and is look­ing for­ward to meet­ing those ten­ants on the air­field whom she hasn’t yet been able

to meet. We go up­stairs to the Sus­sex Fly­ing Club, where Club CFI James Crabbe tells us it’s the long­est es­tab­lished fly­ing school on the air­field−founded in 1992−and the sec­ond big­gest. We’ve caught him at a bad mo­ment and ar­range to come back later. On the bal­cony out­side we have an­other nec­es­sar­ily brief en­counter, with Ale­jan­dra Gar­cia, one of the air traf­fic con­trollers. She is on her way up to the Tower. “I’m due right now,” she says. I limit my­self to one ques­tion and she tells me that she’s been in post a year and nine months.

Down­stairs I spot pi­lot Phil Simp­son, about to fly his PA-28 Archer to Lee-onSo­lent for avion­ics work. He’s a re­tired im­porter, flies around a hun­dred hours a year, started fly­ing in 2007 and has been based at Shore­ham since 2009. He lives five min­utes away and pays £500 a month to keep his air­craft in one of the main­te­nance hangars. “The other hangars are cheaper, but aren’t as good,” he says. Of the aero­drome he says, “It’s got a hard run­way, in­stru­ment ap­proaches, good air traf­fic con­trol, a choice of on-air­field main­te­nance com­pa­nies and gen­er­ally good fa­cil­i­ties. And that’s ex­actly what I want.”

Next I talk to re­tired IT con­sul­tant Bob Ken­drick, and Ed­win Bray, who’s also re­tired af­ter a ca­reer in pub­lish­ing. They are mem­bers of the charm­ingly-named Old Bus Fly­ing Group, which has 22 mem­bers who co-own a PA-28. Bob and Ed­win have been on the air­field for twelve years. This morn­ing they are con­tem­plat­ing a flight to Fairoaks, although won­der­ing if the weather’s up to it. I ask them how the aero­drome has been for the last few years. “Prices have risen and there’s been some un­cer­tainty over own­er­ship and the air­port’s fu­ture,” they tell me. “It’s more a busi­nesslike air­field than one with a great deal of ca­ma­raderie,” they say. “A big fea­ture is the Hum­ming­bird restau­rant, es­pe­cially since it came un­der new man­age­ment a few years ago. It’s ex­tremely pop­u­lar in the lo­cal area.” Bob also be­longs to South Coast Fly­ing Group, which he tells me has sixty or seventy mem­bers. I ask about air traf­fic con­trol. They say, “The con­trollers are as re­laxed as they’re al­lowed to be−and they’re very skil­ful; I’ve known them to han­dle seven air­craft in the cir­cuit ap­par­ently with­out ef­fort.”

Next, Alex and I head for KB Avi­a­tion, where we meet Di­rec­tor Steve Banaeian. This en­gi­neer­ing com­pany has been on the air­port for thirty years and cur­rently has around forty air­craft on its books and four engi­neers. Steve says the air­port’s pre­vi­ous owner, Albe­marle, is in ad­min­is­tra­tion− con­firmed by Alex, only she doesn’t be­lieve the air­port’s fu­ture is threat­ened. “How­ever, it’s been wor­ry­ing,” says Steve; “it wor­ries our cus­tomers.” An­other con­cern is that rental fees have been ris­ing and Steve thinks the land­ing fee is too high. “Also,” he adds, “busi­ness has dropped as a re­sult of the Hunter crash. Fly­ing clubs haven’t been get­ting so many trial lessons. The lo­cal com­mu­nity is be­gin­ning to put the crash be­hind it now, but it’s slow.” Steve says the amount of he­li­copter, busi­ness jet and tur­bo­prop ac­tiv­ity is tend­ing to in­crease, but oth­er­wise, “it’s very quiet com­pared to how it used to be−i can re­mem­ber land­ing here and hav­ing trou­ble find­ing space to park”.

We con­tinue down the line of build­ings on the south perime­ter road. Most are oc­cu­pied, although a few are va­cant. I see a group of young­sters from the tech­ni­cal col­lege on the air­port, who are out­side for a cig­a­rette. They say they’re learn­ing au­to­mo­tive skills, but North­brook Col­lege does run some avi­a­tion-re­lated cour­ses. I also pop into In­terair, an ob­vi­ously thriv­ing busi­ness pro­vid­ing laun­dry and cut­lery to the air­lines; its re­cep­tion has a rather snazzy sculp­ture of a jet in it. Alex says, “The air­field is on a flood plain, so is im­mune from the pres­sure to put up hous­ing. The dozen or so non-avi­a­tion busi­nesses here, plus all the em­ploy­ment from the avi­a­tion busi­nesses, make the site highly ap­pre­ci­ated by the lo­cal coun­cil−or so they tell me.” Our next visit is to en­gi­neer­ing com­pany Apollo Avi­a­tion, where I meet Peter Villa, the pre­vi­ous owner. The com­pany is now run by Jonathan Can­de­lon, who is also the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the air­port and of the com­mer­cial fly­ing school on the site, FTA. (The own­er­ship of the site is com­pli­cated: it in­volves more than one lo­cal au­thor­ity and there are com­pli­ca­tions with the pre­vi­ous owner, Albe­marle.) Peter says Apollo has around twenty air­craft on its books, two li­censed engi­neers, plus four un­li­censed and one part-time. Peter started the com­pany in 1993 and has also worked as an avi­a­tion con­sul­tant. I ask him if he would char­ac­terise Brighton City as small and in­for­mal or large and for­mal and he says, “A bit of both”. On the air­port’s fu­ture, he says, “It’s go­ing to have to ad­just to more com­mer­cial train­ing, light busi­ness avi­a­tion and he­li­copter char­ter.” At Perry Air, on the west end of the perime­ter road, the re­cep­tion­ist says there are two stu­dents and a trial les­son booked to­day, but no one cur­rently avail­able to in­ter­view. Sadly, the en­gi­neer in the main­te­nance and stor­age hangar on the ground floor, where I can see a num­ber of clas­sic bi­planes, is too busy to stop. The last build­ing in the row is pi­lot equip­ment sup­plier Tran­sair. Tom Moloney sends his

apolo­gies; he’s had to fly to a busi­ness meet­ing in his MD500 he­li­copter, but Di­rec­tor Robert Nor­man is happy to talk to me. It’s Tran­sair’s thir­ti­eth an­niver­sary this year (2016) and the com­pany has had its head­quar­ters here since 1999. The shop on the air­port is open six days a week. Robert says pi­lots are go­ing on­line for their sup­plies more than they used to, “But foot­fall is still im­por­tant. Peo­ple like to come in and try items. We get pi­lots fly­ing to Brighton City in or­der to pick up some­thing from the shop.” The cur­rent best seller is the Bose A20 head­set, fol­lowed by Aeroshell prod­ucts. Has he no­ticed other trends? “We are do­ing a lot more busi­nessto-busi­ness trad­ing: sup­ply­ing schools, clubs and main­te­nance or­gan­i­sa­tions, kit­ting out air­lines with head­sets and ful­fill­ing stu­dent uni­form con­tracts.”

We head back to the pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal build­ing and I nip up­stairs to see if Sus­sex Fly­ing Club’s CFI James Crabbe is any less busy. The club looks to be buzzing but he says he can fit me in, so we go into an of­fice for a chat. James is par­tic­u­larly proud of a film on Face­book, which he’s had made pro­fes­sion­ally, fol­low­ing a stu­dent, Beth Mo­ran, to first solo, di­rected by Tris­tan Lo­raine, a doc­u­men­tary maker who’s a re­tired Bri­tish Air­ways Cap­tain. “The film got 110,000 hits on Face­book in just two weeks,” says James. “We’re a very pub­lic­ity-con­scious club,” he says, “and the air­field’s man­age­ment has been good in back­ing us.” The club has over 200 mem­bers, around 45 stu­dents and a fleet of three PA-28S, three Cessna 152s and a Piper Ar­row. As well as PPL train­ing it trains to Mod­u­lar CPL as Sus­sex Flight Cen­tre, but has no CPL stu­dents cur­rently.

I ask about Shore­ham. “I’ve been here 25 years,” he says. “What can I tell you? It’s got three run­ways and one hard run­way which is great in win­ter. The in­stru­ment ap­proach fa­cil­i­ties are an as­set, as are the air traf­fic con­trol ser­vice, fu­elling and other fa­cil­i­ties. We got some bad pub­lic­ity af­ter the air­show ac­ci­dent but things are re­cov­er­ing now. I know the land­ing fees are a bit steep, but per­son­ally I think the man­age­ment has prob­a­bly got them set about right. In­stru­ment fly­ing is what brings in the rev­enue and that suf­fers if you get too many vis­i­tors. I’d say, to me it looks pretty sta­ble here now, and if things go on as they are I’ll be happy.”

I meet some of James’s stu­dents. An­thony An­tat is 22, works in cus­tomer care and lives in Hast­ings. He’s had forty hours’ train­ing with the Sus­sex Fly­ing Club and, if he can raise the money, in­tends go­ing on from a PPL to a full Com­mer­cial and get­ting a job as an air­line pi­lot. Ker­rie Hig­gins is 24 and a chef. She is twelve hours into her PPL course and is go­ing to stick with be­ing a leisure pi­lot. Her grand­fa­ther was in the RAF. She lives in Brighton and found the club through a web­site, while An­thony was rec­om­mended to it by Wy­combe Air Park, when he told them he was mov­ing down.

The third stu­dent I meet is just six­teen. Liam Wood­house is at col­lege study­ing maths, physics and me­dieval his­tory. He is twenty hours into his PPL course and in­tends go­ing on to be­come a com­mer­cial pi­lot. “I love fly­ing,” he says, “and I can’t think of any­thing I’d rather do for a liv­ing.” His fa­ther is a pi­lot−in fact, he’s a mem­ber of the Sus­sex Fly­ing Club.

Alex is out­side, wait­ing to in­tro­duce me to James Latham, 29, Se­nior Air Traf­fic Con­troller at Brighton City, who’s worked in air traf­fic con­trol since he was eigh­teen. At present there are six ATCOS at Shore­ham plus three as­sis­tants. There are al­ways at least two con­trollers in the Tower. The

num­ber of move­ments has been steady at around 50,000 a year for the last few years.

ATC ser­vice at Shore­ham is from 0900 to 2000 with an air/ground ser­vice be­tween eight and nine in the morn­ing, al­beit with PPR. The move­ment num­bers work out at around 400 a day and James says sixty an hour is not un­usual in sum­mer. About three-quar­ters are light fixed-wing air­craft, fif­teen per cent he­li­copter and ten per cent busi­ness jets or tur­bo­props. Most are home-based air­craft with roughly one in five be­ing a vis­it­ing air­craft. “The air­port is pop­u­lar with vis­i­tors,” says James. “There’s the restau­rant, and the town of Shore­ham-by-sea and its beach. The lo­ca­tion next to the coast is spec­tac­u­lar. The Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed at­tracts a lot of vis­i­tors. And then there’s the Tran­sair shop and the air­field’s his­tory. Lastly, com­ing here gives stu­dents a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence an ATC and train­ing en­vi­ron­ment if they’re from an air­field with an air/ground ser­vice.” James grew up near Birm­ing­ham Air­port and air traf­fic con­trol caught his imag­i­na­tion as a child, rather than aero­planes. He would quite like to get a pi­lot’s li­cence one day, but hasn’t had any fly­ing train­ing. “I do like to work

The move­ment num­bers work out at around 400 a day... sixty an hour is not un­usual in sum­mer. “The air­port is pop­u­lar with vis­i­tors” James Latham, se­nior ATCO

around aero­planes though,” he says. It seems that a ca­reer in ATC is quite well paid; ac­cord­ing to James, con­trollers can earn £100,000 a year at Heathrow. He adds, “But that’s not the ap­peal. There’s end­less va­ri­ety and it’s al­ways in­ter­est­ing.”

Next, Alex takes me down the east­ern end of the perime­ter road to meet James Piper, Chief Pi­lot at Fly­ing Time Avi­a­tion (FTA), which is the main com­mer­cial fly­ing school on the air­port. “We train around forty full-time stu­dents a year,” he tells me, “and a hand­ful of part-timers.” The fleet at Shore­ham is Di­a­mond DA40S, DA42S, a PA-28 and an Aztec. FTA has twelve in­struc­tors at the air­port. It also has a con­sid­er­able fa­cil­ity in Spain, which trains for the first eighty hours−stu­dents then move here to com­plete their stud­ies. The Span­ish op­er­a­tion is fully booked. “FTA has been here for ten years,” says James, “and when we in­tro­duced our in­te­grated course a few years ago it proved to be ex­tremely pop­u­lar.” Half the stu­dents are from the UK, half from else­where.

James, who is 28, started fly­ing at eigh­teen. He tells me a fully qual­i­fied fly­ing in­struc­tor can ex­pect to earn £30-35K. “It was my am­bi­tion,” he says, “to work for the air­lines, but af­ter in­struct­ing for a while I de­cided to stick with it. I en­joy in­struct­ing, but also you get a reg­u­lar daily com­mute be­tween job and house and fam­ily. Once I got set­tled into that way of life, air­line fly­ing didn’t seem so at­trac­tive. In ad­di­tion, this is a bril­liant lo­ca­tion, the south coast gets bet­ter weather on the whole, and for our type of train­ing, prox­im­ity to large in­ter­na­tional air­ports is a def­i­nite plus. The fa­cil­i­ties here are first class, es­pe­cially now that we have a GPS ap­proach. We’re ex­pect­ing to get one with ver­ti­cal guid­ance−an LPV ser­vice−next year.”

Fur­ther down the perime­ter road we visit Ad­vance He­li­copters, where I meet Spencer

Phillips, who is one of the own­ers and an in­struc­tor. Spencer has been a pro­fes­sional he­li­copter pi­lot for seven­teen years and be­fore that ran a gas­tropub. He tells me the com­pany of­fers PPL and ad­vanced train­ing, in­clud­ing con­ver­sions to dif­fer­ent types, FAA to EASA con­ver­sions and CPL train­ing. “Ba­si­cally, we spe­cialise in the un­usual,” he says, “and we have a hun­dred per cent pass rate.” They train four or five CPL stu­dents a year. “PPL stu­dents are our bread and but­ter, though.” There are cur­rently around twenty. The fleet is im­pres­sive; an R22, three R44s, an R66, a Hughes 269, an MD 500 and an EC120. One of the R44s is a two-seat con­ver­sion on the lines of the Robin­son R44 Cadet.

At the end of the row of busi­nesses we find the Real Fly­ing Com­pany. Con­tribut­ing to the slightly ec­cen­tric at­mos­phere is Vega, an Al­sa­tian bitch, who’s ly­ing down, tired af­ter her walk. I as­sume she’s named af­ter the Lock­heed Vega, a stream­lined air­liner from the 1930s. Also present are Neil West­wood, the CFI, Lisa, his wife and co-owner of the busi­ness, and Caro­line Read, “Ops girl and in­struc­tor’s wife”. Re­lax­ing in arm­chairs nearby are Vic­tor Peirce and Adrian Read, both air­line pi­lots and both in­struc­tors. The Real Fly­ing Com­pany has a Stampe, two Chip­munks, a Su­per Cub and a PA-28. Cur­rently there are around 35 PPL stu­dents and ten un­der­go­ing tail­wheel con­ver­sions but, says Neil, “Mostly what we do is trial lessons us­ing the whole fleet−the Chip­munks are the most pop­u­lar. At this time of year we can eas­ily fly twenty trial lessons over a week­end and dou­ble that in mid-sum­mer”. There are twelve in­struc­tors.

I ask them to sum up Brighton City. Lisa in­sists that it’s ac­tu­ally Shore­ham, and says, “It’s a nice lit­tle air­field. The man­age­ment are pi­lots which is al­ways a good thing. Per­son­ally, I’d like to see more move­ments, which means get­ting more pi­lots to fly in. I think more would if the land­ing fees were a bit lower, but just as im­por­tant is that the air­field gets a bad press in avi­a­tion cir­cles, which it doesn’t de­serve. As re­gards the fees, the air­port was loss-mak­ing when the coun­cil owned it. We all run busi­nesses and ap­pre­ci­ate that you’ve got to make a profit to sur­vive. Ac­tu­ally, I’m proud and happy to be here. We were in­vited to move to Good­wood ten years ago and I’m glad we said no.”

Alex and I head back to the pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal build­ing, but on the way I re­mem­ber that Dorothy Saul-poo­ley has an of­fice some­where round here. We find the door and it’s un­locked so we go in to a sur­pris­ingly roomy two-floor of­fice. We find Dorothy up­stairs. She runs a school here for in­struc­tors and ex­am­in­ers and also gives re­fresher sem­i­nars. “I’ve been run­ning it for eleven and a half years,” she says, “and in that time I’ve trained 300 in­struc­tors. And I get about one hun­dred in a year for the sem­i­nars. There are cur­rently two peo­ple do­ing a full in­struc­tor course. I also teach in­struc­tors to teach aer­o­bat­ics. There’s no fleet−i hire air­craft as re­quired. I’ve been based here since 2005 and re­cently added a satel­lite at Lee-on-so­lent and plan to start an­other soon at Fairoaks. There’s me and two other in­struc­tor-in­struc­tors.”

Dorothy is 59. She started fly­ing at 31 and be­fore that was a lawyer. “I’ve been an avi­a­tion lawyer for a while, and an ex­pert wit­ness,” she adds. “I’ve also worked in pub­lish­ing.” Se­bas­tian Poo­ley, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Poo­leys Flight Equip­ment, is her step­son. “I love this air­field and also the town,” she says. “I sup­pose you know it’s the old­est con­tin­u­ally li­censed aero­drome in the UK? Peo­ple some­times over­look Shore­ham, but it’s got some won­der­ful old houses and a great beach. Shore­ham har­bour has a long his­tory, es­pe­cially fish­ing, and in the Dooms­day Book it’s got a big list­ing, whereas Brighton hardly gets a men­tion.” She points to a framed pho­to­graph. “I got that from a bank in the town. I spot­ted it on the wall in the man­ager’s of­fice,” she says. Writ­ten on it is: ‘Flight across Europe: Beau­mont ar­riv­ing at Shore­ham, July 5, 1911.’

Alex and I head back to the pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal build­ing where she gets me a sand­wich and take­away cof­fee. It’s one o’clock and I’m anx­ious to hit the road, with the M25-M3-M40 Fri­day af­ter­noon night­mare loom­ing. I eat the sand­wich on the way back and it’s su­pe­rior.

Shore­ham (Brighton City) air­port is well worth vis­it­ing. Time your visit for lunch−or bet­ter still, park the air­craft and ex­plore Shore­ham. I might well do that my­self, once win­ter’s been and gone.

Stu­dents and staff in Fly­ing Time Avi­a­tion, the main com­mer­cial flight train­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion on the air­port

View from the Con­trol Tower

Tran­sair’s shop is a good rea­son to fly in

Spencer Phillips of Ad­vanced He­li­copters, who has been a he­li­copter pi­lot for seven­teen years

The Real Fly­ing Com­pany’s CFI, Neil West­wood, his wife and busi­ness co-owner, Lisa, and Caro­line Read

The Real Fly­ing Com­pany’s Stampe

Right: a va­ri­ety of hangarage, at vary­ing prices, is avail­able at Shore­ham

Above: Sus­sex Fly­ing Club’s CFI, James Crabbe

Be­low: aged just six­teen and twenty hours into his PPL, col­lege stu­dent Liam Wood­house

Inset be­low: Plaque com­mem­o­rat­ing the open­ing of the Brighton Hove and Wor­thing Mu­nic­i­pal Air­port in 1936

Above left: The air­field’s art deco build­ings are well-known — and of­ten used in TV and films

Above: In­trepid avi­a­trix (they called them that) pho­tographed at Shore­ham in its Ed­war­dian days

Inset be­low: Evoca­tive pre-war oil ad­ver­tise­ment in The Real Fly­ing Com­pany hangar

Right: Dorothy Saul-poo­ley (pro­filed in Pi­lot, March 2015), who pro­vides in­struc­tor train­ing at Shore­ham

Above: The restau­rant in­side the newly-re­stored art deco pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal build­ing is ex­tremely pop­u­lar with lo­cals and pi­lots alike

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